National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week: Looks Can Be Deceiving ~ You’re Not Jesus

Fifteen years ago the events of 9/11 changed our world forever. One of the travel outcomes was the mandatory use of containers holding no more than 3.4 fluid oz. More than one traveler had their shampoo and body wash confiscated by security before we got used to the new regulation. But now those containers are readily available, and they are the perfect size for the hygiene kits tucked into the backpacks distributed to Lancaster County’s homeless.

dsc02924In addition to shampoo and body wash, the kits include travel-size deodorant, toothpaste, shaving cream, a toothbrush and razor. Everything is packed into a storage baggie to keep dry. When the items are bought in bulk, the cost of assembling the kit is $2.30.

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A second baggie provides nutrition. Each backpack comes with a juice box or bottle of water, tuna salad kit or other canned meat, pudding or fruit, crackers, cereal or granola bar. The food kit cost on average $7.00

Other items Kevin likes to keep in the Mobile Shower Unit are tarps, $4 at Walmart; mats made from plastic bags with pillows, plastic bags free when we purchase our groceries; clean clothes including underwear, socks, pants and shirts.

Years ago I was a Youth Minister and one of our annual events was a 30 Hour Famine. Parents thought I was crazy to lock myself in the church hall for 30 hours with a bunch of hungry teens! But it was great. We talked about being hungry and homeless, how it wouldn’t take much to lose everything and be in that situation. One of our exercises was to go to a local grocery store first thing in the morning, when the bakery was putting out its fresh baked goods, and to survey items on the shelves. The kids found it hard to concentrate on empty stomachs while being assaulted by the wonderful aromas coming from the bakery and deli. They were overwhelmed by our abundance when asked to count the different kinds of water, the number of cereals, the variety of hygiene products. And they were surprised at the cost of things.

It takes less than $10 to provide a basic hygiene kit and a simple meal for the men and women living in the woods, under bridges and in the abandoned buildings that surround us; $4 provides a tarp for a bit of protection from the elements.

A woman once approached Kevin and told him he wasn’t Jesus. He quickly agreed. But who’s to say that one of the men and women he encounters, isn’t. He’s making sure . . . just in case. ‘Whenever you do this for the least of my brothers, you do this for me.’ Kevin and the others don’t preach the scripture, they live it.

Contact Kevin mobileshower16@gmail.com to learn more about the homeless in Lancaster County, more about the Mobile Shower Unit, or to make a donation.

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National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week: Looks Can Be Deceiving ~ What’s in Your Backpack?

dsc02918The jeans and flip-flops in the cubby are appreciated by the men and women who visit Lancaster County’s Mobile Shower Unit, but it’s the simple backpack that van designer and driver, Kevin Lilly, calls a life-saver. Every item in here can save a life, body and soul.

The first item he pulls out is a Bible. They need something to read out there so we make sure it’s something good. In the bottom of the backpack is a soft, fleece throw. Nestled between the Bible and the blanket are ~ dsc02917

 

a small flashlight

a rain poncho

a hygiene kit

a food kit

baby wipes

a body warmer and . . .

a whistle. A simple, aluminum, referee’s whistle on a lanyard. With most items it’s obvious how they save a life. With our days and nights getting colder, the body warmer and fleece throw are especially welcome.

But a whistle? While many of us rely on home security systems to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our belongings, when one doesn’t live in a permanent structure, the level of vulnerability rises significantly. The safety of the homeless rests in the whistle. Yells for help, even if the voice is strong, can sometimes get lost in background noise. But the shrill, metal blast of a whistle is hard to miss. Or ignore. It’s understood that when the blast is heard, someone is calling for attention. The whistle is so important, when one man lost his, he sought Kevin for a replacement.

Distributing the backpacks is one way of extending the ministry beyond the van. Kevin actively seeks out members of the homeless community. If he sees anyone who looks like they need a backpack, he gives them one. The recipient now has a compact, waterproof, portable bag with the means to keep warm, and have a basic sense of security. Because it’s not only about the whistle. When Kevin or those working with the homeless see the backpacks in the makeshift gathering spots, they open the door for further communication. They become a way to continue building a relationship.

Kevin is on the Board of LACH – Lancaster Coalition for the Homeless – and they are currently looking for a suitable place to use as a warming shelter for the coming winter. To contact Kevin  mobileshower16@gmail.com

 

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National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week: Looks Can Be Deceiving ~ A Full Service Stop

dsc02922This is the tower of clean towels and washcloths that waits inside the Mobile Shower Unit and made available to the homeless men and women of Lancaster County. When I first saw it, I wondered when some of these men and women last smelled and felt the softness of freshly laundered linens.

What is our image of those living in conditions most of us would find uncomfortable? Whiskers that grow from five o’clock shadow to scruff in a day or two? Hair that’s matted or dirty from sleeping in the woods? What may be more difficult to imagine is the level of humility and trust mustered in order to approach the van for a refreshing shower.

And just like in our own homes, personal hygiene care doesn’t end when the water is shut off.

dsc02921There is a supply of new toothbrushes and toothpaste, shavers and shaving cream, and other toiletries – items the men and women may take home. There are eyeglass repair kits. And Kevin offers a haircut to anyone who wants one. But it my be limited to a military cut because that’s what he knows how to give!

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And finally, there’s the clean clothing for clean bodies. Coats and knitted or crocheted hats are available to those who need them. There is a cubby of jeans and t-shirts. Kevin offers to take dirty clothes home to wash and return, or he has a tub of laundry detergent he doles out to those who prefer to wash their own.

Looks can be deceiving for this plain white van, but so too for the men and women who enter, then exit.

If you live in the Lancaster area, there will be an Hour of Prayer at noon at Lancaster Historic Courthouse, 101 N. Main St. , Lancaster.

To contact Kevin   mobileshower16@gmail.com   he’s always accepting donations for the Mobile Shower Unit

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National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week: Looks Can Be Deceiving ~ Part 1

dsc02925If you saw this van driving along the road or parked alongside a building, would you give it much notice? That’s actually part of the plan and beauty of this nondescript vehicle – not to draw attention. It’s the Mobile Shower Unit serving the homeless in Lancaster County, SC. Designer and driver, Kevin Lilly, can take the van wherever it’s needed.

Most of us probably take for granted the privacy,  warm-to-hot water, and the feelings of relaxation, rejuvenation, or just plain cleanliness our showers afford. For the men and woman living under bridges, in the woods, or in abandoned buildings,  this Mobile Shower Unit offers all that, and in some cases the first step out of those conditions. It takes little imagination to understand how a refreshing shower, clean hair and a clean shave can boost one’s confidence and chances for a job interview. For some of these men and women it’s already happened.

Mobile Shower Unit

Mobile Shower Unit

And yet such a simple thing. A shower. The van carries a 50 gallon drum of clean water and a water heater that allows for a 5 minute hot shower. The stall is small, but big enough and, like the rest of the van’s interior – spotless. Through donations, wash cloths, towels, soap, shampoo and other items are provided. The men and women may keep them after their shower. If they choose not to, Kevin takes the laundry home to wash and use again.

Such a simple thing, yet not so simple when helping to restore and honor an individual’s dignity. And of course there’s more to the story. During the rest of National Hunger and Awareness Week, I’ll open the doors to the van and the windows into Kevin’s ministry to Lancaster’s homeless. I invite you to peek through the window with me.

To contact Kevin Lilly  mobileshower16@gmail.com

 

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I Love a Parade . . . but this was better

Lancaster County Veterans' Day 2016

Lancaster County Veterans’ Day 2016

Today we honor and thank our Veterans, but this past Saturday my adopted hometown celebrated our local Service Men and Women. It was a ceremony I’ll not forget.

For many years I attended our Veterans’ Day parade – stood in the cold and rain some years, others in the sunshine and heat. But every  year I teared up as the colors were presented and our national anthem was played, waved and said ‘thank you’ to the Veterans as they drove by with their military branch and years of service noted on their cars. And then I went home. I never followed the parade to the Amvets Hall to hear the tributes and the stories. That was a mistake.

This year the local Veteran’s Administration office reversed the order of the parade and ceremony. What a difference the switch made. Saturday was a gorgeous day so the ceremony was held outside on the lawn of our historic courthouse. Our county has three high schools and the number of ROTC members who are present at these events always amazes me. But they were there in full dress, standing at attention, bearing our flags. On one side facing the speaker’s podium were the WWII and Korean Conflict Veterans. On the other were the Viet Nam Veterans, who were being especially honored. Hubby remarked how old some of them looked – then realized he was the same age and looked just as old!

I was in junior and senior high during the Viet Nam Era. I had a P.O.W bracelet I wore faithfully until my soldier came home. I remember the stick figure soldiers in the newspaper representing the number of casualties. I caught glimpses of the news, saw the men slogging through rice paddies and fighting their way through jungles. I don’t remember talking about the war very much at home or at school.

On Saturday our state representative talked about the war, about the bravery of our soldiers, and the failure of our country to honor their service. Then each local Viet Nam Veteran was called by name and presented with a medal, a pin and a certificate. One disabled Veteran abandoned his scooter and took a slow walk to receive his pin. Several wore fatigues, still fit and trim. Others used canes but walked as straight as their bodies allowed. It took awhile to call the almost 100 honored men present to be recognized and thanked individually. Their camaraderie, back slapping, hand shaking and laughter didn’t detract from the reverence of the ceremony – it added to it.

I thought of my friend Angelo, living with a form of Lou Gehrig’s Disease from exposure to Agent Orange, and my friend Kevin, also a Veteran, and his work with our area’s homeless. I wondered how many of them should have been there being honored. During Taps and the 21 gun salute I remembered them, as well as those who died.

After the presentations we yelled ‘Welcome Home!’, sang a round of patriotic songs and found our way to the street to await the parade. Over a loudspeaker more patriotic music filled the air. During the parade as we thanked the Veterans, one answered back, “And I’d go back and do it all again in a heartbeat!”

Hubby caught me snapping a photo of people sitting on the wall that surrounds the lawn of the courthouse. “You know you have to get them to sign a release so you can use their picture.” “Nope. I only took the shadows.” They looked like shadow soldiers, still standing at attention, honoring those who came before, those who continue to serve, and waiting for those to come.

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Today I think of my Uncle Roy who landed on the shores of Normandy and lived to tell about it – though he never would. He’d get tears in his eyes, say, “Kimmie, you don’t want to know.’ and grow quiet. I think about my Dad, a Korean Conflict Veteran. He doesn’t tell many stories either, mostly funny ones, but I have a snippet from my hometown newspaper from way back when Dad played softball and it was noted this would be his last game because he was leaving for Basic Training the next day. I think of my son, classmates, friends, Youth Ministry students who served or continue to serve. To all of them, Thank You.

 

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In Good Company

“Poets and painters are outside the class system or rather they constitute a special class of their own, like circus people and Gypsies.” Gerald Brenan, British writer

OK, I’m not sure exactly what Mr. Brenan meant by the comparison as I’m not sure how he felt about circus people and Gypsies, but I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt because I love the quote.

To me, both groups of people exhibit fearlessness, a sense of adventure, wide-open embracing of life. If that describes a poet I’ll take it. Writing poetry takes a bit of fearlessness to dig for emotions and images, and that ability to see and embrace all of life – the pretty and the ugly. The adventure comes when the poems start to breathe and are shared with others. It’s a great ride and I’m about to embark on a new one.

image007With the release of my first collection of poetry, In the Garden of Life and Death ~ A Mother and Daughter Walk, it’s time to hop in my wagon and begin the publicity tour. My Hyundai isn’t quite as ornate or colorful as the caravans of circus people and Gypsies, but it does have new tires and I’m excited to travel and meet people, talk about writing and my book, and share stories.

All the events below are open to the public so please stop by and visit. I hope to add more and will update as that happens.

Stops so far ~

Thursday February 12   5-7       Lancaster Book Launch       Lancaster County Council of the Arts, Springs House Gallery

Saturday February 21   1-3        Reading and signing             Gallery 102

Tuesday February 24   6           Reading and signing              Lancaster County Library

Friday February 27      7:30      Featured Reader                     Final Friday Series – Madison’s Coffee House  , Indian Trail, NC

Sunday March 15          4-5:30   Charlotte Book Launch        Wingmakers Arts Collaborative

Tuesday March 17         6            Reading and signing             Lancaster  Library Book Club

Wednesday March 18   7            Featured Reader                   So-So Books – Raleigh, NC

Saturday May 16                          Reading and signing             Galion Historical Society – Galion, OH, Brownella Cottage

Tuesday June 9                            Reading                                  Poetry Hickory, Hickory, NC

If you read a previous post about my letting my natural curls go naturally grey, you know I have what some consider Gypsy Hair. Maybe Mr. Brenan knew something after all 🙂

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A Soft Opening

Last month Hubby and I went to one of our favorite Sunday brunch places, The Yolk. It’s a tiny hole-in-the-wall kind of place that recently had to change walls due to a fire. We drove past their new location and were excited to see cars parked outside and people inside. They’d finally reopened! We went in, the waitress seated us right away and we admired the new look while enjoying our breakfast off their eclectic menu. It wasn’t until we asked for our bill that we were told ~

Oh we’re not officially open yet. This was just our soft opening for our benefactors and to see how everything flowed. Your breakfast is on the house.

We were mortified. We apologized…offered to pay for our breakfast… The owner thought it was funny and refused our cash. We left a nice tip for our waitress and slipped out while the other ‘customers’ were thanked for their generous support after the fire.

Over the last two weeks was another soft opening, one that has been both wonderful and humbling. My poetry collection, In the Garden of Life and Death~A Mother and Daughter Walk was released! DSC01590In mid-December I attended a book launch for moonShine review at the editor’s home. Its publisher happens to be mine as well and before I’d put my purse down he encouraged me to check out the Christmas decorations. Anne did a really nice job. I thought the suggestion a little odd – of course I’d check out the decorations…after I got a plate of food…a glass of wine… But it seemed important I do that first. Like seeing the cars in The Yolk’s parking lot and the people inside, I was just happy to be there and completely missed the fact there may be something else going on.

So I wandered through the rooms, (Anne’s decorations were really pretty), and in the office, where I found a place to finally stash my purse, alongside all the other authors’ books was mine. All I could say was oh my gosh…oh my gosh…I got a little teary. Then I heard the whispers, Has she seen them?! Seeing them for the first time surrounded by Hubby and friends made receiving them all the more sweet.

Copies were sent to my ‘benefactors’ – those who’d pre-ordered my book. I imagined the envelopes falling like snow across South Carolina, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Florida, Illinois and Wisconsin. That’s where the final stage of the soft opening began. Amid the excitement of the holidays, family and friends found quiet moments to open the pages, read my family’s story and peek into the tiny windows of childhood cancer and care-giving.

Their responses bring me to real tears. I’m so grateful to my first readers for their support and kind words, and to have these past couple of weeks to pinch myself into believing this is real.

But now it’s time to celebrate! Book launches and readings/signings are in the works. There will be wine, chocolate…and I don’t know what else. I can’t wait to spend time with you answering questions about In the Garden of Life and Death, writing, poetry…The Yolk. Whatever comes up. Will you join me?

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